I have always been the girl behind the camera and was until Bombay Velvet over looked for my hidden acting talents, well if you can call dancing in heavy beaded dresses and jumping off steam trains acting. Ten years in the making Bombay Velvet is a brilliantly put together neo noir drama Bollywood film directed and co-produced by the highly distinguished Indian director Anurag Kashyap.
Appropriately named as much of the Bombay Velvet night club scenes were shot through the night in the newly built film studios down south in Kataragama, Sri Lanka and the lucky Indian stars put up in Jetwing Yala luxury safari park hotel. As a film extra in this extraordinary Bollywood production I had an ever changing wardrobe of flapper dresses, busty halter necks and pearls to glitzy and glittery dresses that were so bejeweled the frocks weighed a ton and I could hardly move in them except at a shuffles pace. It was hard to know how people danced in the swinging 60s in such outfits with platform shoes that require being adept on stilts, one alcoholic drink and you would surely have been flat on your face.
The experience was eye opening and perversely good fun if you don’t mind sleepless nights, Jetwing snack boxes of goodies to keep you going for weeks on end (thank you Jetwing!) and the floor directors shouting for the 12th time “You are watching the night club show, talk, clap show us you are having a good time, clink glasses, flirt, react’ ok’. Hard to do after 16 hours shooting daily and only three hours sleep and yet somehow you find the spirit to just give it just one more kick before crawling home to bed. Of course there is nothing to help you get you in the mood for Bombay at its wickedest. After as all we are only drinking fake drinks with plastic ice cubes, soup that were prepared hours ago (can’t eat even if you are starving as it has to be re-used over and over to get all the shooting angles) and often with only a tape playing the music while the actress has a rest. One might even describe the filming experience as a horror show, but that is show biz for you.
In truth after days of relentless shooting the action off stage was probably more interesting than on with romances breaking out among the crew, arguments over how to play a role and not to mention one of the crew coming out as gay in a late night confessional and the three some that was more imagined than real. As one of the 20 co-star extras I was dressed daily in an endless array of different glitzy outfits, shoes and styles. Looking back it is hard to believe one can be made to look so different in layers of make up, blond to ruby red wigs, accessories from gold butterflies to pearls and wardrobe make overs sometimes doing no less than three different performances for the 3 songs shift changes in a night, which meant totally different looks for us on the floor which ranged from 50s glamour to 70s bad taste.
For the male extras and my co-stars it was all about dealing with terrifying and hitleresque wardrobe man Prabhakar dada. Suited and booted they are presented to the stylists who ruthlessly cut off their uber cool Sri Lankan beach boy hair pony tails off, inflicting upon them a variety of mustaches ranging from Zapatista-like drooping bandit whiskers, pencil thin lothario lip hair and handlebars more suited to the California gold rush, all pasted on with industrial strength glue that would put Super Glue to shame. Next they are moved into the make up artists hands where you were given hair fixer to give it the fake brillo cream slick back look. After this one is checked before being seated on the rust bucket pre colonial bus, as the already over budget film had run out of money for a trailer. All this along side guided tours with gaggles of star struck tourists turning up in a place that may have the potential to challenge Universal Studios in a hundred years time (not!). However it does feel great when a random American tourist out of nowhere takes loads of pictures and says wow she is famous (she being me). I don’t have the heart to tell them as they ask for my signature that I am just local mum, so scribble in big letters love Anusha and give it the red lipstick pouting movie star kiss.
The film features the world famous Kapoor and Anushka Sharma who belt out songs with flipped back hair and hip movements that could outstrip Mae West. It’s just a shame Anusha does not have the immortal great lines to match her glitzy wardrobe like “It’s not the men in my life that count, it’s the life in my men”. Its all sex and singing in the city of gin sin Bombay in the time of India’s prohibition and post colonialisation crack downs. The film shot on set in Yala is a treasure trove of moments that go beyond the usual Bollywood love clichés stories, it reveals the darker than dark side of Mumbai and in a weird way reflects Sri Lanka’s state post the 30 year civil war.